Exclusive Interview with Witchery

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An Exclusive Interview with Witchery


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Christine: Jensen, it's great to have you here on the phone today to talk about the new Witchery album, which is called Don't Fear the Reaper, and it actually came out yesterday in the United States. I know it was out a little earlier over in Europe, but it's been a long time coming.

Jensen: Yes, the last album we put out, Symphony for the Devil was out in 2001, and this latest album, Don't Fear the Reaper was actually recorded in 2004. And the reason why it wasn't released in late 2004 was that both the labels we were on, Music for Nations and Necropolis, they kind of disappeared. So if we had had a label in 2004, this album would have been out that year, but it took until now, until we found a new record label and, you know, we got everything sorted with the release schedules and everything. And yeah, that's the reason for the delay.

Christine: Right. And so I imagine another part of that reason is just the fact that most of your members are quite involved in other really popular bands, including yourself being in The Haunted. I imagine that's rather difficult to coordinate any kind of schedule for anything when you guys are all going off in different directions all the time.

Jensen: Yes, it's--it was hard enough with me and Sharlee in The Haunted and Arch Enemy and it's gotten even worse with Martin playing with Opeth right now. And I mean, we really want to tour for this album. I believe that live--a band is supposed to be better live than they are on the album because you can do all kinds of studio tricks and whatever to make it sound good--but it's live where a band really shows its mettle, if you want. But it becomes increasingly difficult to confirm when everybody will be available. So yeah, touring might prove to be tough. So summer festivals are what we're going to be aiming for, I guess. I mean, here in Europe we have so many festivals and they're, you know, every year--anywhere in between 20,000 to 100,000 plus. So yeah, there are both benefits and negative aspects on us being in other bands...for Witchery.

Christine: Yet again, you didn't let it dissipate and I also think that you know, just myself, and a lot of my peers and fellow metalheads really like Witchery a lot, and I think that we didn't want to see that just sort of go off into the ether, and apparently you guys didn't either, because as difficult as it is you're still keeping Witchery going.

Jensen: Oh, yes, I mean, we're very, very serious about Witchery as a band. I mean, all of us, we were in Witchery before we joined any other band. I mean, I was in Witchery before I formed The Haunted and Martin was of course in Witchery before Opeth, and Sharlee was, although he was in Mercyful Fate, I don't think Mercyful Fate has done anything since he joined Witchery. And he actually joined Arch Enemy after he became a Witchery member, so this is a real band, it's not like...and many people try to make it out to be a superstar band or whatever, but it's kind of like a band that has gone from being a band to its members joining other...or forming other bigger bands. So Witchery is very dear to us, and we won't let it just disappear. It's...we're going to be putting out albums probably, you know, for the nearest foreseeable future anyway.

Christine: I know that The Haunted is extremely popular and that you guys have been touring like crazy, and in The Haunted you play a little different style of metal than Witchery. What is the passion, really, that keeps you guys going in Witchery versus the other bands--highly successful bands that you guys are all in?

Jensen: Maybe The Haunted is a bit more contemporary, maybe we try to...ah, I don't know...maybe we try to stay on the cutting edge, so to speak. Witchery...we indulge ourselves into playing, I mean, the old style of metal, if you want. Even though just from blending all the different styles that we do--I mean, thrash, black metal, whatever, heavy metal--that we might have come up with something new, but we, we really enjoy playing the old (old is such a negative word), but it's kind of hard to describe. It's not that we have any kind of strategy or so, when we write for Witchery, it's just...happens. We have a good time together. We rarely see each other, so when we get together and we play the old Witchery songs, it's just all, you know, smiles and laughs and we just start writing stuff. This is what happens, the result is what you hear. We have a very tight schedule when we write an album--it's done in a month's time, and whatever we come with is what we, and sounds good of course, is what we will use. So I guess this the spontaneous me.

Christine: Well, I know a lot of my friends tell me that even when they come out to see The Haunted they're throwing you the "W."

Jensen: Oh, yeah. Wherever we go, Japan, Australia, US or Europe, it's, you know, somebody screams Witchery song titles, and you know, sometimes I just give a little teaser. But you know, it's cool that you can really tell who's the real metalhead. I'm not saying that someone who only likes The Haunted and Arch Enemy is not a real metalhead, but people who listen to Witchery tend to have a very diverse taste in metal. They have a very good knowledge of different styles of metal and [they're] very passionate about it. I don't know how to express myself. But a Witchery fan seems to be very into many styles of metal and very loyal to the bands that they like. I mean, even though we haven't put out an album in many years, they're still as diehard Witchery fans as ever.

Christine: We were all anticipating this record and really excited that it came out. Another thing I notice about that album is it's about 45 minutes long, and most of the tracks are about two to four minutes. That's the kind of metal I like, and I'm one of those people that you, you know, you were trying to define earlier about the Witchery fan. The short, kind of catchy song is rather a trademark of Witchery's style at this point. Do you really think about that, or it is just really organic like you mentioned earlier? Are there some songs that might not...you might write for Witchery, but then they end up not fitting for Witchery, or...?

Jensen: There's...I do like the three-and-a-half-minute songs. I'm very much for the catchy stuff 'cause I have my roots in AC/DC and that is very simple, catchy stuff. And I've never been, I mean, I know the twins in The Haunted, they're big into King Crimson and Rush and bands like that. That's never been my thing. Of course, I can...I understand that they're great musicians and everything, but it just hasn't been my thing. And I'm more focused on you know, writing a song that has a catchy beginning, it has a, you know, catchy chords, or whatever and I don't mean catchy in a Backstreet Boys kind of way, but it's just that it sticks when you hear it, like any good metal song. I don't know. There's...I always tend to, when I write music, I tend to think of it as meant for Witchery because it's just easier. And then every now and then there's a riff that sounds more [like] The Haunted, so The Haunted gets a bonus riff kind of for free. Sometimes songs get given to the wrong band, like the intro song for The Haunted Made Me Do It, "Dark Intensions," was a Witchery song. I rehearsed it and wrote it for Witchery. We played it for months until I said, "Guys, I think this is more of a Haunted song." And now it's probably one of the most classic Haunted songs we have. But needless to say I don't think the Witchery guys are very happy with me calling that...taking that song to Witchery to The Haunted. I'm sorry. But then sometimes it works the other way, too, like, "Crossfixation" on this new album. That was a song I showed The Haunted but they didn't like it for some reason, so we put...you know, that's cool, I'll just use it with Witchery.

Christine: So then do you do the majority of the writing for both bands?

Jensen: No, I do maybe 95 percent for Witchery and maybe a third for The Haunted. Me and the twins, we write The Haunted stuff together.

Christine: So would you say that Witchery is your pet band of the two, or your favorite?

Jensen: I write almost everything and nothing happens if I don't do stuff, you know. So of course it's closer to my heart, but still, I also formed The Haunted and named that band, and so on. So The Haunted is also very dear to me.

Christine: Well, you mentioned too that you really want to tour with Witchery. Is that something that will happen, or that you want to happen, and also is there any possibility of touring in the US?

Jensen: That would be great. I mean, the US is where probably Witchery's best market...just because of the Emperor tour we did in '99. But you know, it is really hard to find time where everybody will be available. But we do want to do a European tour and a US tour, and maybe even a Japanese tour. We've been there before. But if touring is impossible, then we want to do festivals, and I'm not really up-to-date on what kind of festivals there are in the US, apart from the New Jersey Metalfest and stuff like that, if it still exists, I don't know. But they weren't really up to European standards as far as festivals go. But, yeah, somehow we need to play the US.

Christine: If you could join us on one or two our festivals, we would love to have you.

Jensen: Oh, yeah.

Christine: That just kind of leads me to another question, given that you're a guy who plays in a couple of different styles of bands and you're all over the world constantly, and you have played Ozzfest, and I read that was kind of less than wonderful for you. Do you have an opinion on maybe why the state of metal is as it is in the US, and like, Japan, and even South America, versus Europe...do you have a theory on that?

Jensen: Yeah, I mean, the thing in the US, it seems to be touring festivals. Up From the Underground? No, Songs from the Underground? What is it that Lamb of God headlined last year?

Christine: Oh, yeah, I think that's Sounds of the Underground.

Jensen: Yeah, and then there's Ozzfest and, I don't even know if Lollapalooza exists anymore, but touring festivals seems to be the thing. I mean, the US is a huge country, but then again, I mean, Europe isn't tiny either. But I think there's about, correct me if I'm wrong, but there's 280 million people in the US?

And I think there's 450 [million] people in the European Union and that's not even every country in Europe. So, of course, there's more people to go see shows and maybe there's a...more of a tradition to go see festivals here, and you know, the three-day festivals where everybody sleeps in a tent and so on. I don't know if that would be possible in the US, where people would just stay in their cars and drink and drive all the time, and get into fights, and I don't know. I think they're a bit more calmer in Europe anyway. Like, I can't really say what a festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil, would be like, but, I don't really know. I actually got that question asked to me on the Ozzfest, when they filmed the Ozzfest to DVD. And I said, well, you know, Ozzfest is cool but it still can't compare to the European festivals, and I looked into the camera and said, "Come on, Sharon, you're European, you know what I'm talking about." But that got cut out; they didn't include that.

Christine: Awww, well. I will include it.

If you guys could put together a tour, but maybe one of you couldn't make it, is it possible that you might, you know, get a fill-in guy and go ahead and do it? Or are you pretty much set on having that lineup that's on the album?

Jensen: No, no, no. I told the guys they could do a US...or do tours without me, but they said, oh, no we can't do that. And we've actually done the Japanese tour without Sharlee. But he was there. The tour was with Arch Enemy, but the Arch Enemy camp wouldn't let Sharlee play with Witchery. So we had Magnus from The Crown. The Emperor tour that I was talking about in '99 in the US, Sharlee was actually on tour with Mercyful Fate, so we had Magnus do that tour as well. So it has happened before.

Christine: There are certain people that probably could fill in, but it seems like it would be strange to have Witchery without you there.

Jensen: That's what the guys in the band tell me, and I don't believe...come on, I feel bad because me working with The Haunted is holding back the band. I mean now that Martin has something else to do...but before that it was me and Sharlee taking up...you know, like, I don't know what the word is, being...weighing down the band, or like an anchor. Do you know what I mean?

Christine: Yeah.

Jensen: By anchor...like, slowing the career or the success or whatever for the other guys. And I said of course you guys, just take off and find someone else, you know, that can do, that can play my part. But, I guess maybe me and the singer are the guys that won't be replaceable. But, sure, it's a possibility.

Christine: So what about a video, would you guys ever do a video, or is there a song on this record that you're kind of calling a single or anything?

Jensen: Well, we are using "Plague Rider" to...for all the sample CDs and stuff, which, 'cause it's trademark Witchery, it's up-tempo and you know, cool beginning, good chords as I mentioned before, which I think is important. And so that is probably the single. I'd love to do a video, especially now that touring is so difficult. But we haven't discussed it yet with Century Media.

Christine: That'll be cool if that happens. I was just wondering, too, about the new art. Historically most of your art is very similar and very colorful and I really like the art on the new album too, and I like that artist. It's still very different than, you know, your earlier covers. And I was just wondering if there was a certain decision about that or if that's just kind of the way it happened?

Jensen: No. He's actually a childhood friend of mine. He's done almost every Haunted cover. And he also did the logo...The Haunted logo.

Christine: The look of the new cover is quite different from the other. I mean, other than the fact that there is a skeleton guy on there...

Jensen: He actually did the...there were three different cover artworks for the Symphony for the Devil.

Christine: I was going to ask you about that because the art that I see referenced usually on the Web and in stores is different from the actual CD that I own.

Jensen: Yes, we had three different labels for that album. Necropolis, Music for Nations, and a Japanese label called Toys Factory. And they're all worried about costs, import CDs, and you know, loss of sales. So we put three different covers on there just 'cause...I mean, we're fans too and it's cool to have different covers and you know, people can collect and so on. So Andreas did the bluish-toned number. I don't know which one you have?

Christine: I have a brownish one.

Jensen: Yeah…He does Arch Enemy...he does a bunch of bands.

Christine: Well, I was wondering too if that guy that keeps appearing on your art, is he like your Eddie or is he just like the Reaper?

Jensen: No, he's our mascot. He's like a Vic Rattlehead, or Eddie, yeah.

Christine: Does he have a name? Or is he...

Jensen: Oh, yeah, Ben Wrangle.

Christine: How did that name come about?

Jensen: It's directly translated. Ben means "bone" in Swedish and wrangle is like a rattler.

Christine: So bone rattler.

Jensen: Yeah.

Christine: I gotcha. That's really cool. I totally did not know that, and I don't think I've ever read that anywhere.

Jensen: Really?

Christine: Yeah, I'm sorry that got past me.

Jensen: I think me and Sharlee came up with that the same night as we came up with the "W" hand sign. That was a fun evening.

Christine: Sounds like it. So since we are talking about these earlier releases and the stuff...I guess particularly that was on Necropolis, just because I am American and I happen to be in San Francisco even as we speak, so...what's going to happen with those records?

Jensen: I don't know. I'm talking to Paul. If we could rerelease them somehow...maybe not through Necropolis, or you know, just license them out to someone else. But now would be a good time to put them out just because Witchery is on a really good label right now and we have a new album out. So this would be, you know, a very logical thing to do.

Christine: I agree, and I hope that happens for you.

Jensen: Me too. I guess we need to record a few bonus tracks for...I mean, put two bonus tracks on each album that we...just to make them attractive, or something, I don't know.

Christine: That would be cool. I know that I was missing one and I had to go, you know, to eBay to get it. So, I think there's probably still some interest even if you didn't add any bonus material or anything.

Jensen: Which CD was that?

Christine: A Symphony for the Devil is the one I picked up that I didn't have.

Jensen: Oh. How much did you have to pay for it?

Christine: It wasn't much. I think $7 or something.

Jensen: Oh, yeah.

Christine: I don't think it was new, and it wasn't particularly used, but I just picked it up from another fan, I'm sure. So are you able to have a life, given all that you have to do with The Haunted and Witchery and your grueling tour schedules? I know that you just did a tour with Exodus in Australia, too.

Jensen: Oh, yeah. Well, not really. You have to have really supportive people around you. But I mean, Marco left The Haunted because of his family. He has three kids and so on. Peter has kids, if we're talking The Haunted. But it is really hard and we're not getting any younger, but you know, it's the life we've chosen, so far anyway. But, of course, you can't continue on the same level forever. I mean, before you know it you're going to be 45 and you can't headbang anymore 'cause you're all worn out.

Christine: I think some 45-year-old headbangers might take umbrage at that comment. [laugh]

Jensen: Well, they're probably on a different level and can probably pay for a masseuse every night. And they don't play The Pound...

Christine: Well, yeah, we look forward to seeing you out there again, being that's where I go to see shows.

Jensen: Yeah. It's a great place.

Christine: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today, and letting us know about your new release Don't Fear the Reaper, and I hope you have a lot of success with that and that you can really figure out a way to tour and come out and see us here in the US especially.

Jensen: We've been talking about doing just key shows, like LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York. You know, the biggest markets in the US, you know, maybe not more than two and a half weeks or something, just to really be able to go there, and if people in the US really want to see us it won't be, you know, insanely expensive to go see us.

Christine: All right, Jensen. Again, I really thank you for your time and best wishes to you.

Jensen: It was my pleasure.

Christine: Great. Well have a good one, and cheers.

Jensen: Yeah, you too and take care. And I'll probably see you at the next The Haunted or Witchery show.

Christine: Sure, I will come up and make myself known. All right, man, take it easy.

Jensen: Take care. Bye.

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